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Published: 2008/08/25
by Brian Ferdman

Dark Star Orchestra - Ithaca - 30 Years Later- The Video May 8th, 2007


Aside from having one of the longest titles in the history of the DVD medium, Dark Star Orchestra – Ithaca – 30 Years Later- The Video May 8th, 2007 captures the eerily spot-on Grateful Dead tribute band faithfully recreating one of their mentor’s most famous concerts. Forgoing the original Barton Hall for Ithaca’s State Theater, Dark Star Orchestra’s performance of this legendary setlist was recorded in front of a multi-camera setup, and while the editing and video quality looks rather primitive, as if it was assembled using iMovie and filmed in lo-fi, the music is just as professional as one might expect from this solid unit.

Of course, Dark Star Orchestra is known for faithfully re-creating Grateful Dead performances, and that’s exactly what they do here. While they don’t play the show note for note, they utilize instruments, effects, and jam themes from this time period, and the vibe and feel of the original show is definitely there. Visually, of course, it’s not the same thing, with the exception of rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton, whose Bob Weir-isms are on the mark, if not a little creepy. Thankfully, Eaton does not attempt to re-create Weir’s famous “Everybody take a step back” banter, which is well-known thanks to bootlegs of the original show.

Speaking of those bootlegs, many feel it’s the superior sound of those recordings that have caused this particular concert to have gained a mythical life of its own. Because those bootlegs were so widely spread, the Grateful Dead chose to never officially release this show. Now with any Dark Star Orchestra release, I freely ask why anyone would want to purchase a recreation of a show when the genuine article is already available, but it’s the filmed aspect of this concert that adds a new layer to this question. Unless some mysterious Zapruder film of the original May 8, 1977 performance emerges, we’re never going to be able to see the Grateful Dead play this legendary 5/8/77 setlist, but we will be able to watch Dark Star Orchestra do a fine job of it. On the other hand, part of the charm of a Dark Star Orchestra gig is the transporting feeling one gets when one listens to the music with eyes closed, as it sounds as though the vintage Grateful Dead are performing right on stage. Of course, that illusion vanishes when the eyes are opened, so maybe there isn’t much point to having this performance on DVD unless you really love that 5/8/77 show. Then again, who doesn’t love that 5/8/77 show?

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